Improvements at planetarium offer ‘cooler’ experience

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Scobee Planetarium depicts a star field on the ceiling Nov. 11 in the theater. File

Scobee Planetarium depicts a star field on the ceiling Nov. 11 in the theater. File

The planetarium is set to reopen soon, showing off its enhanced projection system with new shows.

By Nicole Bautista

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Visitors may not notice the subtle improvements made to Scobee Planetarium when it reopens Oct. 7; nevertheless they are there, and these improvements will make the experience a little cooler and quieter, said Coordinator Bob Kelley.

The planetarium had been closed since mid-August to reconfigure and rehouse its year-old star projection system, which was slightly raising the room temperature and creating a noise.

With construction coming to an end, Kelley said he is pleased with the sleek and barely noticeable improvements.

The planetarium worked with Evans and Sutherland, which Kelley described as the provider of the most advanced digital planetarium technology.

The focus was on one of the two Digistar 5 projectors that create the sky for all of the shows, Kelley said. Scobee purchased the projectors last fall from Evans and Sutherland to replace the Digistar 4 system.

The main goal for this fall’s improvements was making the Digistar 5 cooler and quieter.

“The projectors are wonderful — they are very bright and very hot,” Kelley said of their temperature.

They have fans that cool the projectors to normal operating temperatures as they heat up. However, the projector is mostly getting cooled by the air temperature in the room, Kelley said.

The projectors also created a small amount of noise.

“As they get hotter, the fan runs faster; it produces a little bit of a whirring sound, where if you are watching the show and the soundtrack, you would barely notice, but we would like to make it quieter,” he said.

Kelley said the noise sometimes made it difficult to hear questions from soft-spoken audience members.

In January, Kelley and his crew came up with an interim solution, making a temporary sound shield — essentially a frame and panels to make a box — around Projector No. 1 in the back of the planetarium.

With Projector No. 2 already hidden neatly behind the wall of the front planetarium, Scobee received approval to spend funds to make an enclosure for No. 1.

The new enclosure for Projector No. 1 shields the sound and provides its own air-conditioning.

“Having its own air supply, the projector should run cooler, making our theater more enjoyable,” Kelley said, noting that the cooler operating temperatures will prolong the lamp and equipment lifespan.

Being a little bit ahead of schedule with the construction, the planetarium could open sooner than Oct. 7. Kelley recommended checking the Scobee Education Center Facebook page to find out.

For now, the planetarium’s Oct. 7 reopening will offer new shows to the improved “super bright, super sharp and super colorful” 4k resolution projection systems, Kelley said.

For more information, call Kelley at 210-486-0101.

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